Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Westward Ho

Marissa Skudlarek shares survival tips for theater safaris into San Francisco’s Pacific-side neighborhoods.

On Wednesday the 18th, some intrepid theater-makers forded Van Ness Avenue and lit out for the Richmond District. The mission of these noble pioneers: to spread the gospel of the theater in an area previously deprived of it. I have long believed that the Manifest Destiny of San Francisco theater is to spread westward (see https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/heigh-ho-the-glamorous-life-the-van-ness-avenue-problem/) and I am proud to have been part of this trailblazing vanguard.

I am referring, of course, to Theater Pub’s touring performance of the Pint-Sized Plays at the Plough and Stars pub on Clement Street. We were unsure of what to expect from this venture, but it turned out to be an amazing success. The house was packed, and not merely with the usual faces, but with people from the neighborhood. The Plough and Stars performance was featured on SF Daily Secret and on Richmond neighborhood blogs. And while we love our regular berth at the Café Royale, the Plough and Stars offered some advantages all its own. For people like me who aren’t beer fans, the pub’s full liquor license was nice. And it has no pillars to block anyone’s view!

Although there is no regular theater in the Inner Richmond, I’ve always thought of the area as a cultural hub, because of its high concentration of restaurants and the presence of the amazing Green Apple Books. Restaurants, bookstores, and theaters seem to belong together naturally. Let’s say you’re a playwright whose latest play was just called “Nietzschean” in the pages of a local newspaper, but, to your eternal chagrin, you have not actually read the Nietzsche book upon which your play was supposedly based. So, before the play’s third performance, you make a quick dash into Green Apple Books, pick up a used copy of The Birth of Tragedy, and feel better about yourself. Um, not that I am thinking of anyone specific here, or anything.

As for restaurants, the Inner Richmond presented my family and me with a plethora of options. Should we go for fried halloumi cheese and Mediterranean-style dips at Troya? Try to score a table at the wildly popular Burma Superstar? Make it a chic night out at the French bistro Clementine? In the end, we took Theater Pub co-founder Stuart Bousel’s advice and went for the hearty American-style food at Q. With its Southern and Southwestern influences, it was a perfect meal for pioneers like us!

Our touring performance at the Plough and Stars was a success, but it was a one-night-only occurrence in a venue not purpose-built for theater. More work still needs to be done in the realm of creating new theater spaces in the central and western neighborhoods of the city. To that end, I recently became aware of a nonprofit that is attempting to purchase and remodel the vacant Harding Theater on Divisadero Street and use it as a venue for live performance, among other things. Neighbors Developing Divisadero aims to turn the Harding into a community center for the neighborhood, but with the possibility of presenting outside programming on the theater’s main stage. See more information and take their survey at NDDivis.org.

I think Divisadero Street is a great location for a theater: a neighborhood where people already go for nightlife, eating out at restaurants like NoPa and seeing concerts at the Independent. Naysayers may note that it’s not near a public transit hub and there is little parking space. But, face it, we live in a city where there’s never enough parking, and the public transportation is unreliable except to get you right downtown. (Theater Pub has even provided a venue for our complaints about these matters: “How to Ride a Bus in San Francisco,” from March 2010, told MUNI stories; and Nancy Cooper Frank’s “Circling,” in this year’s Pint-Sized Plays, deals with the scarcity of parking in S.F.)

I admit that perhaps no neighborhood is “perfect” for theater; the Tenderloin has its flaws and so does Divisadero. Still, why should most San Francisco theater be concentrated in just one neighborhood, when we have a whole city in which to spread out? Go west, young theater-maker!

Marissa Skudlarek is a playwright, arts writer, and proud resident of western San Francisco. She is still working on reading Nietzsche. Twitter @MarissaSkud.